Speakers Corner

Seizures: recognising a medical emergency

01 February 2015
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By Roisin Kelly, Co. Leitrim

I was diagnosed with epilepsy in June 2010 at the age of 17. Over the course of the last five years I have had numerous seizures. With each one there have been various responses to them from both myself and those around me.

In September 2012, I was in my friend's apartment when I had an 'aura' and subsequently a tonic-clonic seizure. It was the first time for my friends to ever witness a seizure. They were frightened, upset and didn't know what to do. They rang for an ambulance but unfortunately they were on call and so the Fire Brigade arrived instead. When I finally came around, I woke up to two paramedics in the room. After arguing that I was ok and that I only needed to rest, I finally gave in and agreed to go to hospital. Downstairs three more greeted me and by the end the ambulance had also arrived.

A medical emergency is defined as 'an injury or illness that is acute and poses an immediate risk to a person's life or long term health'. Was this a medical emergency? Was it necessary for both an ambulance and the Fire Brigade to arrive? Personally I think the answer is no.

If it had been:

  • My first seizure;
  • That my seizure had continued for more than five minutes;
  • That one seizure had followed another without me regaining consciousness between them
  • That I had been injured during the seizure;

 ...then by all means it was a medical emergency. However this wasn't the case in my situation.

This poses the question - are paramedics fully informed when it comes to epilepsy? Are they provided with the adequate training to deal with such situations? I had never fully explained to my friends what to do if I had a seizure, for fear of causing apprehension and concern. However after this incident I realised it wasn't safe for me or others not to know about my epilepsy or how to react to it. Therefore I decided to create a word document outlining exactly what to do if I had a seizure. I described what my physical reaction would be to the seizure and how to administer the Buccal Midazolam (emergency medication) and where I had it stored. I posted this above my bed and I made copies explaining it to my friends, housemates and anyone else who I interacted with each day. This put my peers at ease and it put me in a much safer position if I were to have a seizure again. 

For the first two years after I was diagnosed, I had periods where I was seizure free for months on end and then periods where I would have three seizures a day every two weeks. I had been taking my meds at the right time, I was getting my eight hours sleep a night and generally living a healthy life style - yet I was still having seizures. I was always taking two steps forward and then one step back with the dream of being seizure free never in sight. This was very frustrating and upsetting. I started to become quite bitter about my epilepsy. Why out of all of my friends did I have to be the one to get diagnosed with it? As time went on I realised that although I don't - nor ever will I - have full control over my epilepsy I do have control over how I respond to it. I started becoming proactive rather than reactive. With each seizure I had after that, I looked on the bright side whether it was the fact that someone had been there at the time, that my seizures were becoming less frequent or that I had ruled out something I thought had been causing them. Whatever it might have been I tried my best to remain positive. 

'Between stimulus and response is our greatest power - the power to choose' (Victor Frankl). 

None of us had the freedom to choose whether or not to have epilepsy. However we do have the freedom to choose how we react to it. With this thought in mind we, our family and friends can take on epilepsy. We can learn how to deal with it optimistically with the belief that someday there will be light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of how long the journey takes to get there.

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